Countdown to College Basketball: #34 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
After making their first NCAA Tournament of this century, while winning a Tournament game in the process, Rutgers is back trying to make it two Tournaments in a row. Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr both decided to return to Rutgers instead of going pro and that leaves a lineup set up to have both experience and talent. Now the question left is whether or not the supporting cast can help them out enough so that Steve Pikiell’s team can make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
The dynamic duo of Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr are among the most popular names in College Basketball and will be hoping to play to a level of play that will be needed for them to succeed. Son of NBA Champion Ron Harper, Ron Harper Jr is a big bulky wing, who is a good defender, tough and physical rebounder. Harper will try to shoot it much as he did early in the season last year, and while that’s unlikely, being around a 37% shooter will be key in not only helping this team succeed but help his NBA aspirations as well. Geo Baker is maybe the more popular of the two, Baker is a good lead guard who is good at setting up the offense and has shown an ability to be a good shooter as well. Baker showed two years ago that he is one of the best clutch-time shooters in the sport, but for Rutgers to make the NCAA Tournament, he’ll have to be consistently good throughout the game.
The Scarlet Knights have a good collection of wings for this season with Paul Mulcahy and Caleb McConnell. Mulcahy is a tough New Jersey kid, who is just a good basketball player, he can run the point, he can play off the ball, he’s a good shooter and a tough defender. He may not look like an elite basketball player but when he’s on the court, the Scarlet Knights seem to play better as a team. Caleb McConnell provides a true modern-day four-man for this team, he’s very switchable on the defensive end and will provide the ability to create shots off the dribble, however, his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired.
Up front, Cliff Omoruyi will now move into the starting center position with Myles Johnson off to UCLA. Omoruyi is a 6’11 athletic center, who is the prized recruit in the Steve Pikiell era. Omoruyi will need to become a better post-up big man and free throw shooter for this team to have success, while he will also need to avoid getting in foul trouble but overall his defense and rebounding ability are already something that has been good at this level. Ralph Agee won’t be much of an option offensively but provides them with some solid frontcourt depth, should Omoruyi get in foul trouble.
Off the bench, Jaden Jones and Mawot Mag could provide some scoring pop off the bench, neither played much a season ago but another year of development could be big for them. Aundre Hyatt was the biggest transfer addition of the offseason for Rutgers. Hyatt is a stretch-4, who probably plays close to 20 minutes a game, he’s a perfect modern-day four-man if he can shoot close to 35% from three.
With this Rutgers team, while they lose two elite defenders in Jacob Young and Myles Johnson, the defense is still going to be really good. This is still a group of switchable defenders, who are tough and physical, so a defensive drop-off shouldn’t be in store. Young was an energy-giver a season ago, so that will be hard to replace, however, I do think having fans back in arenas will help this team bring energy unlike last season when they struggled to do that consistently.
Baker and Harper Jr will continue to be really good overall players, the shooting will be key for them but those two should be able to give them between 25-30 points per game between them. McConnell and Hyatt will be steady role players on the wing, while Mulcahy should be more featured in the offense. Omoruyi should also step in and be much improved at the center spot, I think he will provide more offensively than what Johnson ever did. Depth is a concern but I am trusting this team to figure it out and also stay healthy, which might be more of a risk.
PG: Geo Baker
SG: Paul Mulcahy
SF: Ron Harper Jr
PF: Caleb McConnell
C: Cliff Omoruyi
B1: Aundre Hyatt
B2: Ralph Agee
B3: Jaden Jones
B4: Mawot Mag